Turning pollution into fuel

To ease into the groove of the revived Natural Patriot, I’m starting with the easy stuff: some of the arguably noteworthy developments that transpired during the touch-and-go months of social-networking coma.

First up: the latest on our algal biofuel project, which I have reported on before here and here. Having spent a good part of my adult life pontificating about what’s wrong with the world, I came to the conclusion a few years ago that I couldn’t really look at myself straight in the mirror without trying my hand at actually doing something of substance in an attempt to fix it.  So, long and circuitous story short, I pitched in with a motley group of scientists and entrepeneurs in a project aimed at (here comes my nascent snake-oil salesmen language) putting biodiversity to work.

The project involves harnessing humble wild algae in a natural, low-tech process that couples clean-up of nutrient-polluted water with production of a feedstock potentially useful as biofuel. The operational word here is potentially. We already know that the process, developed >30 years ago by Dr. Walter Adey of the Smithsonian, scrubs nutrients out of water beautifully, efficiently, and pretty cheaply. It’s actually been used in tertiary water treatment plants and in aquaculture operations.

But in the past the heaps of algae produced in the process were simply composted or, in some applications, fed to farmed tilapia (pretty ingenious, that).  The new alchemical angle is to spin them into “green gold” — algal biofuel. “Turning pollution into fuel” is my pitch when I wear a suit and talk to people about this. It’s become my sound bite since it came to me (on a flaming pie, I’m tempted to say) late one night as I was mulling over a presentation to a group of academics and industry people about this stuff.

So last fall a group from the Clean Skies Network got wind of our effort and came to interview us. Here’s the footage — note that you may have to crank the volume a bit to hear the interviewer (Not sure why the Youtube still image makes me look like such a doofus . . .):

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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5 Responses to Turning pollution into fuel

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Turning pollution into fuel | The Natural Patriot -- Topsy.com

  2. I like the artsy photo of the algal screens with the orderly small ripples on the water.

  3. Emmett Duffy says:

    Hey James. Thanks, I dig that one too. I submitted it for the VIMS photo contest because of the ethereal zen-like quality. But no dice.

  4. Ann Duffy says:

    Nice format — avoiding information overload and keeping it accessible for those who can find 2 minutes to attempt self-edification on these topics. Good stuff.